Wednesday, I posted a diary that called attention a growing revolt to the Obama administration's plan to delay the repeal of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy until, well... later. No one knows. It seems the counter-movement pushing for immediate vote to repeal and led by Colorado Democrats Senator Mark Udall and Jared Polis in the House may be bigger than we thought and has a surprising driving force.
Now everyone knows you can't vote for LGBT-affirmative legislation during an election year, right? That's crazy talk. Well, Capital Hill insider, David Mixner posted an article on his websiteWednesday that turns that piece of conventional wisdom on its ear. Among the shocking (anonymous) quotes:
One high ranking staffer said, "We are going to get creamed in our district since we need the gay vote... For God sakes, let's get this out of the way."
Many more, very eye-opening and surprising quotes after the fold.
I had wondered what was driving Udall and Polis to openly defy the President, and it appears it's as simple as a Democratic consensus about what's good for the ballot box. Is it possible Democrats are recognizing the reality that the 25% that would hold the repeal of don't ask don't tell against them were never going to vote for their darn socialist agenda anyway? And maybe going into an election season it's better to have your friends grateful, rather than pissed off?
David Mixner, a seasoned political strategist of more than 75 campaigns, followed up on the Denver Post piecesurmising this is not a noisey few, but rather the paper "could have just unveiled the tip of the iceberg on this one." He concludes from his conversations that "the revolt is perhaps much larger than the media realizes." In short, Democrats, even from the South, with urban constituencies are frightened to face midterms without having a major LGBT legislative victory they can say they voted for during the year (Congress doesn't do memos). Mixner begins:
I have spent the day visiting on the phone with extremely reliable sources on Capitol Hill in both the Senate and House. With over twenty calls, I have been able to determine that the revolt is perhaps much larger than the media realizes. There is a sense of total frustration with the administration. They just don't understand why the White House won't move on this issue. Many of persons on the Hill that I spoke too are from states with large urban populations, including in the South. They feel the failure to vote this year on DADT will have a 'chilling effect' regarding voter turn out in the Fall elections. Those interviewed think that not only will many LGBT citizens stay home but also other progressives.
So turnout is a concern, no doubt, so must be staffing. Nearly every urban district has one or several LGBT political clubs that have evolved into a must-stomp for many Democratic congress people. How many candidates have come to rely on these clubs for canvassing and GOTV operations? I know for a fact, many NY Democrats do. They are no doubt also fearful of facing angry constituents with tough questions in the coming months. Perhaps the specter of Harold Ford's reception at New York's Stonewall Dems club haunts them?
Or maybe they're also concerned about the money? LGBT activists have been calling for a boycott of the DNC. Branded "Don't Ask, Don't Give,"its mission is to motivate Democrats to move beyond saying nice things, and instead, delivering nice bills. Perhaps they are concerned low turnout may apply to their fundraising schedule as well, where LGBT-specific events are now de rigueur to help fill the coffers.
It also seems the peaceful, civilly disobedient tactics of GetEQUAL have captured the attention of Congress people. One source, described as a high ranking staffer said:
"It is just only a matter of time that what is happening to Pelosi in San Fran works it way down to our districts. We don't fucking need it. "
The "what is happening to Pelosi" in San Francisco seems to be an allusion to GetEQUAL's March 18th sit-in, which occurred simultaneously in Speaker Pelosi's offices in San Francisco and DC. Activists were calling for a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which extends employment discrimination protection to sexual orientation and gender identity. A version of this bill was first introduced into Congress in 1974(yes, 36 years ago, that's a lot of money and votes to milk out of a single piece of legislation).
And I think the staffer is right, it may be only a matter of time before sit-ins become more common. GetEQUAL has since followed up with a one-two punch of distrupting Barbara Boxer's fundraiserand returning to the White House fence,this time—not with a single veteran activist—but six. Apparently last month was a warning shot, the message seems clear that escalation and expansion is an option activist are putting on the table.
And speaking as a LGBT community insider, I can tell you, I'm pretty sure GetEQUAL will not be short of foot soldiers. Many straight people may call these tactics counterproductive. They may call them infantile. They may say the gays are having a hissy fit.
But they're seen very differently by large numbers within our community. They have struck a cord and energized many who feel increasingly frustrated with our endless and fruitless attempts to negotiate politely in good faith. The Obama campaign made many promises on DADT, ENDA, DOMA, and none of them began, "I will sign a memo..." We were assured in November 2009 that the repeal would be included in the next military spending budget.The stalling is seen by many as more evidence the Democrats see our community as a cash and labor cow to milk, but never to be fed. The prospect of ENDA's awesome 36 year adventure looms forebodingly. We are also acutely aware provisions our community negotiated politely for in healthcare reform were dumpedand our respectful, repeated requests for inclusion in the nascent immigration reform legislation was ignored. There's scarcely an issue the community doesn't have a gripe with the Democrats on. Frustration is high, we are surrounded by change, but not included.
Mentioning repeal in the State of the Union address also seems to have been a very major political miscalculation. It was interpreted by many as a promise for the coming year. And this week, damning revelations came out that the implied promise of imminent repeal was apparently not offered in good faith. Kerry Eleveld reports that just four days later, on Feb 1,LGBT leaders met with WH Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and were told that repeal was off the table in 2010.
“It was a definitive shut-down from [Jim] Messina,” said a source, who was present at the meeting and agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, referring to the White House deputy chief of staff. “He said it would not be going into the president’s Defense authorization budget proposal.”
The fact of this has since been confirmed by other leaders at yesterday's LGBT Town Hall Meeting in Washington DC.Why LGBT "leaders" did not share this information at the time with the grassroots is a very important question, but a topic for another diary. The question germane to this diary is, why did the White House continue to dodge repeated requests to clarify its preferred timeline and strategy if it did, in fact, actually know the answer to the question? I think the Democratic revolt is in part fueled by the Congress people recognizing they cannot dodge their way out of an unfortunate reality as the White House's strategy seems to have been.
The inclusion in the SOTU address was met with great elation and a renewed sense of hope. And the disappointment from finding out it meant nothing has been commensurately crushing. And infuriating. It unfortunately reinforces a sense in the community we are being played for fools. We are being buttered-up with glitzy prime-time promises in front of the cameras and quietly being shut down behind the scenes when the cameras are off.
The good news is Mixner reports that all the staffers he spoke to had been involved in internal strategy discussions on ways to work around the White House. Now, the White House has said repeatedly that the concern is they want to see the results of the Pentagon study, currently underway and due in December.
The common ground is easy to find. There is a reasonable offer on the table to vote in 2010 for repeal, with a delayed implementation until after the study is complete. The policy can be sunset for sometime in 2011. The major LGBT lobbying groups including Human Rights Campaign,Servicemembers Unitedand the Servicemembers Legal Defense Networkhave indicated they are amendable to such a compromise. And my sense is, the grassroots will be too.
Let us hope the administration is, as well. Many in the Democratic caucus also appear to be hoping so:
An elected official in DC told me, "If the President digs in, he then guarantees that the debate will be ugly and divisive. I am really concerned about their intransigence." Another Chief of Staff confided to me that this is a 'huge mistake' since it was the President himself that set the expectations.
There is one way out. And it comes from the words of FDR, a quote Obama has himself referenced himself: "Make me do it." Sen. Mark Udall told the Denver Post the committee was "within a vote or two" of including repeal in the budget. Activists have identified Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Jim Webb, Robert Byrd and Scott Brown as key swing votes. (And come on MA progressives, show Scott Brown who he's working for, he wanted the job, show him what he signed up for!) A list of the full committee and contact information is below.
And it might be good to send the White House a message telling them to give Congress a break already. You can use the words of the Hill staffer: "For God sakes, let's get this out of the way."
UPDATE 1: I think there's some confusion based on the comments I'll try to clear up. The only pragmatic strategy for repeal this year is for the Senate Armed Services Committee (listed below) to attach it to the military spending budget. So the situation is, more liberal senators who are not on the SASC, and as such, have no say whether it is attached or not, are being asked to feel LGBT and progressive pushback, to accommodate the wishes of Jim Webb, Robert Byrd and other SASC members who are reluctant to vote for moving forward on repeal. Barbara Boxer, for example is left to only her own powers of persuasion to get a colleague like Evan Bayh to not screw her over. This is where Obama's support would come in nicely. If you had Obama on line one saying, "Don't vote," (as reports have said)and Barbara Boxer on line two begging you to vote, which would you listen to?
Technically, yes, Congress can do whatever it wants. But only if the
28 15 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee agree to let them.